Chapter 11: Tired
Las Vegas, USA
Although the operation hadn’t been critical, the patient’s family wouldn’t stop shedding tears. Bitter cries like these were a familiar aspect of my career. It acted as an added motivation to finish all my operations successfully.
I came out of the operating room and assured them that their son was doing better.
Gilbert grabbed my arm as we left the surgery department. “Let’s go have coffee. I’m exhausted and it looks like you have a lot to tell me.”
Gilbert could always read my face without me saying a word. Although he had been against my marriage, he had always tried to find middle ground between me and Mariam; hoping to help us work our problems out.
He sat down on the bench as I carried the coffee over.
“You look really exhausted,” I said.
He sipped his coffee before answering. “Yes, I’m very tired.”
“Sounds like your Vegas night was a long one,” I said.
He smiled. “It’s the casinos. I won some money last night, so when I felt a bit of luck coming my way I played a few more rounds and then I lost it all again.”
“Can’t you just stop, Gilbert? You lose your money the same way every weekend!”
He laughed. “I only lose what I gain. What’s the problem with that?”
“But —” I began.
He interrupted me. “Tell me what’s up with you. You’re obviously tired yourself.”
“I didn’t sleep well last night,” I said in a tired voice.
“That’s clear to see, but why not?”
“Oh, the usual.”
“Mariam?” Gilbert asked.
“You and Mariam still push and pull like you’re on the battlefield! Aren’t you both sick of these constant arguments?”
“What can I do, Gilbert?”
“You two have to figure something out! It’s wearing you out.”
“Actually…” I began, but then fell silent.
“Actually what?” Gilbert exclaimed. “Tell me!”
“Nothing, forget it.”
I was very hesitant. I didn’t know if I should tell Gilbert about Dr. Brown. I hadn’t told anybody about it out of respect for Mariam’s feelings. She didn’t want anyone to know, but I felt so stressed by everything that was going on around me. Maybe I needed to talk about it.
“I’ll tell you, but you have to promise me you won’t tell anybody else.”
“Of course, you have my word.”
“That’s a given, Yaser. I won’t tell anyone, don’t worry about it.”
“Mariam and I are seeing a marriage counselor,” I whispered.
Gilbert stared at me for some time and then burst out laughing.
“What’s funny about that?” I hissed, feeling irritated.
“Is this the secret you’ve been hiding?”
“Of course! Mariam chose a counselor in Los Angeles so no one would ever find out.”
“What? L.A.? Are you both crazy?” Gilbert yelled in surprise.
“Keep your voice down! What’s wrong with you?”
He drew closer to me and whispered, “Okay, I’ll keep it down, but are you guys crazy?”
“It was her choice.”
“Oh my God! And you wonder why I live my life in the dark shadows of Vegas!”
I remained silent as I watched Gilbert sip his coffee slowly. I didn’t know why I was staring at him; I had always wanted to live his life. Gilbert had a wild life, full of adventures among the casinos and bars and women of Vegas. He didn’t believe in anything but pleasure. He always used to tell me, “My friend, Vegas is the city of pleasure, not sin; for sin is nothing but pleasure!”
Maybe he was right. Sin wasn’t a mistake; it was more of a treat to oneself. Once tasted, it became an inextricable habit. So Vegas was the City of Pleasure, as Gilbert called it.
Oh how I wished to live out all the types of pleasure that were prohibited by Mariam’s strict moral code. In Mariam’s system of morality, everything was bound by restraint: love, silence and even anger! In her system, I had to pray even though I was an atheist. I had to fast even though I didn’t believe in the month of Ramadan, and I had to go on pilgrimage to Kaaba even though it was only a piece of rock to me and not a holy land.
Under her commandments, whatever I wanted was forbidden and whatever I hated was permitted. I had to become the Yaser she wanted, not who I really was. Having lived her way, I had come to realize that I didn’t actually want the faith I had wished for when I met her, neither did I need to follow these religious ideals to build the ideal family. All I needed was to be myself, with my own perspectives and my objections and even my blasphemy.
I didn’t like hiding my real being under the cloak of her wishes in order to conceal from her the horrible fact that she was living with an infidel. This would be sufficient cause for a separation and for her to claim custody of the children. Therefore, I had no choice but to live according to Mariam’s rules.
“Hey, Yaser, why are you so absent-minded today? What’s going on? Tell me.”
I pulled the envelope that contained the tickets out of my pocket and gave it to him. Isabelle was calling me, so I snapped up my phone quickly.
“I’ll be right back, Gilbert. I have to take this call.”
I got up instantly but didn’t answer the phone. Instead, I declined the call and texted her: “Don’t call me when I’m at the hospital. I’ll call you later.”
I glanced indirectly at the people around me as I typed the message, worried that someone would notice my strange behavior and anxiety. But if I wanted to be cautious, what was Isabelle still doing in my life? Why hadn’t I thought about breaking up this superficial relationship that brought us together only through phone calls? I had still never met Isabelle in person. All we had in common were the whispers and deep, erotic breaths. Was my relationship with Isabelle worthy of all this unease in the hospital cafeteria?
I went and sat back down with Gilbert.
“Two tickets to an Adele concert? Unbelievable! What a surprise! Mariam must have been really amazed. You’re crazy, man!”
“Yeah, she was so surprised she refused to go to the concert.”
“What? Refused? No way! Is she insane?” Gilbert yelled in astonishment.
“I’m the insane one, according to her. The kids can’t stay on their own, apparently.”
“That’s nonsense! Why would they stay alone? Mariam’s parents can come over and take care of them like they always do. What’s the difference this time?”
“She doesn’t want to leave them behind. She only leaves them when we’re going on a short trip; never when we go abroad. She’d prefer to take them with us.”
“But it’s Adele! Doesn’t Mariam know it’s the first time she’s gone on tour since 2011?”
“She doesn’t really care. So there you go. You can have the tickets and take whoever you want. Enjoy it,” I said.
“Why would I go with someone else?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that if Mariam doesn’t want to go, we should go together!” He high-fived me and cheered. “We’ll have a blast in Italy!”
I smiled as I thought about it. How great would it be to go away without Mariam for once? How great would it be to fly away from all the weights that burdened me: my patients, my work, my problems, and even Dr. Brown? What a great idea! If Mariam didn’t want to go, why couldn’t I? She could stay and take care of the kids if she wanted to, but I had no reason to miss out on the opportunity.
“But what would I tell Mariam?”
“Umm, I don’t know. But you paid for the tickets and you have every right to enjoy what you paid for!”
“But what, Yaser?”
“It’s our anniversary gift. How can I use it for our enjoyment?”
“She’s the one who said no,” Gilbert remarked.
“But she said no because of the kids.”
“Don’t blame Mariam for acting the way she does when you allow her this unrestrained reign, my friend,” Gilbert said as he stood up.
Allow her unrestrained reign? Was I that submissive to Mariam and her wishes that I would do anything to please her? Did all my attempts to avoid quarrels with her lead to her taking control?
All of our friends envied our little family when they saw the happy photos of us smiling and hugging all over social media. Especially on Instagram, where they got a closer look into our lives, seeing us sitting around the dinner table during Eid or on our way to the mosque for Friday prayers.
They would comment on them, wishing us a blessed Friday and for our prayers to be answered, not knowing that I would accompany Mariam to the ladies’ section of the mosque and wait for her outside until she was finished. When she asked me how the prayers had gone, I always answered, “It was great!” How fake was our existence?
Yes, I needed to start enjoying my life. I didn’t have to cheat on Mariam and spend my nights the way Gilbert did, but at least I could enjoy a concert I had already booked.
“Yes, you’re right, Gilbert. I’ll think about it,” I murmured to myself. I didn’t know why I couldn’t make a final decision.
I picked up my phone and researched the concert. I shuffled between my favorite songs and then I realized, it was time to give myself a break away from Mariam. I needed some peace.